Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

There is still a lot of snow on the ground from the storm last weekend. We got about a foot and some. I don't know how much will be left by tomorrow, because it is raining. I can't remember if I have had a "White Christmas" since I moved here or not. Actually, since three of them were spent elsewhere, I don't think I have. It would be nice, but it is also nice to have a sunny Christmas, so we can walk the dogs.
It has been an interesting year. For the first time in my adult life, "THE ECONOMY" has been something tangible and worrisome, and for the first time in a long time, I don't have to say to people, "I didn't vote for him!" Because I DID vote for him, and Obama's taking office somehow makes me feel like, even though things will be tough, there is hope ahead. When we travel overseas this February, I won't be embarrassed to admit I'm an American, and feel like I have to defend myself.
My biggest goal for the next few days: attract as many birds as I can to our yard. We have a cardinal pair visiting again, and I'm hoping that when it's time they'll nest with us.
Here's to getting back to what's important.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time Lapse

Time becomes more fluid when school starts. I lose track of how much I have left in class, how much has passed since I started to make dinner, how close it is to my bedtime. And so it is almost Thanksgiving...
This year is good. Challenging and busy, but good. I have students who work without complaining, which is a nice change from last year. But the most amazing thing I witnessed came Monday night at our parent report card conferences. I host portfolio conferences; the student comes in with his or her parent and leads them through the work in their portfolio. I have done these 10 times in the last five years, and they are usually successful. The parents love the close look at what their kids are doing, and the kids love the extra credit.
But this Monday, for the first time, I witnessed the majority of parents and children enjoying their time together. This was not a chore, or JUST an extra credit opportunity. This was a real conversation, with laughter, and explaining, and questions. And that was the norm, versus the exception.
What an amazing thing to see.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


is fun again. It has been raining here since Friday morning, and Saturday afternoon I needed to get out of the house. I wanted to walk, and we needed to replace some kitchen equipment, so we went to the mall. I had recently gotten the Land's End catalogue, and there were some cute winter things I wanted to look for; we headed into Sears. Discovery: I don't fit in the "plus" sized clothes anymore!!!!! I bought some "misses" shirts from Land's End, and a pair of jeans, the first in about three years, and some cute "palazzo style" pants at J.Jill--and I didn't have to get size XL! I'm not melting or anything, but it sure is nice to know that I'm gradually shrinking down to a healthier size. Hopefully this realization will get me through the "It's Fall and I need to eat and pack on fat for winter" phase I go through every year at this time...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Teaching is kicking my tail...

Whew. It's been an intense four weeks. I have five classes with three preps this year, which is a first for me. It's fine, but I REALLY have to be organized. The good news is, I feel like I'm "on my game" this year, and I love my kids. And I'm still in love with our new 8th grade administrator.

I've been cooking up a storm to relax, recharge and focus. Lots of putting by for winter: roasted peppers, more tomato sauces, baked goods, and defrostable meals are packed into the freezers. I'm hoping they'll help save me on those winter days that all I want to do is crawl into bed as soon as I get home from work. I highly recommend finding a recipe for peach-pecan scones. I found it online and it is just amazing.

Sadly, as summer turns to autumn, my body is kicking into,"EAT, EAT, EAT," mode. It's like some ancient DNA is telling me to pack on the fat for the winter months. I never noticed this when I lived in Florida (though I suppose if it really is some kind of instinctive thing, it wouldn't kick in in the sub-tropics). I find myself fighting the urge...and frequently losing. If I ate any more carbs today I'd turn into a noodle.

Marge Piercy has a great poem on the topic in her book Mars and Her Children (can't remember the title--read the whole thing, it's great!). She really is one of my favorite poets ever.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I'm always a little sad as summer starts to fade. But it's softened by the beautiful change in light and the bumper harvest of things I wasn't sure would make it a month ago. Though my tomatoes look AWFUL, they're still producing, and I've frozen lots of sauce. The zucchini and melon have caught powdery mildew, but they're still growing. The green beans offer up new pods every other day, and the bell peppers are finally doing something other than dropping their flowers. (I hesitate to say they're producing peppers...I don't want to jinx them.)

I made a roasted root vegetable side dish tonight that outshone the grilled steak we had by a mile. (And the steak was good...) I highly recommend the recipe (from The Roasted Vegetable by Chesman).

3-4 pounds of root vegetables (I used 4 medium carrots, 3 large beets, 1 kohlrabi, 2 medium parsnips); peeled and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered, root end left intact to hold layers together
head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (could also use rosemary or sage; can substitute dried but cut down to 2 tsp.)
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 c chopped walnuts (optional, but I highly recommend)
chopped parsley to add at end

Spread 1 tbsp olive oil in baking dish (I used a 13 x 9 glass dish). Preheat oven to 400. Add all ingredients except walnuts and parsley to dish; drizzle with rest of oil. Mix to coat evenly, spread veggies into as flat a layer as possible. Roast 20 minutes, stir. Roast 20 minutes, stir. If veggies seem close to done, roast 15 minutes and add walnuts, stir. (If veggies don't seem close to done, start stirring at 10 minute intervals.) Roast 5-10 minutes more. Sprinkle with parsley, serve. You don't really need anything else, but it's a nice accompaniment to grilled steak or pork tenderloin. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


First day of school: done.

I don't know if it's the same for other teachers, but the first day of school is such an adrenaline rush while the kids are there (Is my dress tucked in my underwear? Is there food in my teeth? Have I rubbed my make-up all over my face? Have I just said something stupid? Who are these children?) that when they leave, I'm DONE. It's like someone sticks a pin in me and I deflate almost instantly.

Strangely, it's not a bad thing. It just is. And obviously it lessens as the days pass.

It's early to say, but I'm going to put out there that I LOVE my new 8th grade administrator. She's a teacher and learner. What else needs to be said? :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Excitement All Around


So much for not having enough to do during the summer. I'm making up for it this week.

Larry says one day last week, "I'm looking at Jeeps online." This is good, because I've wanted a Jeep Wrangler since I was 12, and I told him that if we got a boat I wanted a Wrangler to pull it. He was listening! (We don't have the boat yet. We're doing this in stages.)

On our fourth test drive, we found a used Wrangler with hard and soft tops and acceptable mileage. The dealer met our price, and voila! We own a Jeep.

Today we took said vehicle (we take turns driving but both would happily drive all the time) into Boston. Larry found a Boston Harbor Lighthouse tour, and we both love the harbor and islands so we jumped at the chance. The day was BEAUTIFUL--92 by the afternoon, but when we went it was about 75 and crept up to about 85.

The tour meets at Moakley Courthouse, which is a very cool building; the wall that faces the harbor is all glass. It sets some kind of record, but I can't remember what. Anyway, we boarded and left at 10 a.m. and it took about 45 minutes to get out to Little Brewster Island, which is where the Boston Harbor Light is; it's the only keepered light left in the U.S. (Keepered instead of manned because the keeper is a woman. She's the first appointed female keeper--at least of this light. She may be of all of them; there were other women who took over after husbands died, but the park ranger said he thought she was the first ever appointed to the job.)

We had about 1 1/4 hours on the island, so Larry and I walked around and spoke to some of the rangers on duty. The other two lights, Minot and Graves, are both visible from Little Brewster; they're automated. We can hear their fog beacons at home.
We were able to climb to the top and see the light itself. It was made in the 1850's, and I'm not 100% remembering, but I think it's called a Frenel (Franel?) light. It was amazing. The day was clear so we could see approximately 25 miles out to sea--we could see further if it weren't for the curvature of the earth. All around us were the other islands, and in the distance we could see Boston. She looked like a toy city hovering on the water. If you're ever in Boston, I highly recommend the trip. As soon as I figure out how to make the files small enough, I'll post some pictures.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sure, why not?

I signed up for Facebook. I'm not convinced of the value of these things, other than as ways to reconnect with people I used to know. That's a good thing. I'm not so sure about the option to play games, etc. Although I don't have to add them, so that works out just fine.

Interestingly, my husband's Facebook account doesn't seem to show him as married. Hmm... :)

Back to work in a week and a day. I hauled supplies and materials from my office to the car today, and it's remarkable how great my office looks. It has been a running battle to keep the room from turning into a first floor storage closet (since so many older New England homes don't have closets, ours included, this seems to always be an issue...or maybe I'm just a slob). Once I get the second window in here painted, I can set up the bookshelf again and it will be even better. It only took three years to make it workable!

Montana has just joined me. He's growing so much. At the vet's a week ago he was 40 pounds! He's still just as rotten; his newest thing is pooping on the brick walkway up to our house. What, our grass isn't good enough? Luckily for him, he's still darned cute and has a great personality. We'll keep him.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The sun is back! It has shone on our little yellow house for two days in a row, and it is remarkable how much better I feel. The dogs and I took a nice long walk today, and I did some potting up of coleus cuttings. (Okay, how cool are those plants? Rip a piece off, stick it in water, and soon you have roots. Put in a pot with soil, repeat.) This is a photo of the house from the day we decided to buy it--there's a garden and fence out front these days. And no Christmas decorations, but only because Larry makes me take them down. I'll have to take a picture to post.

I never thought I'd admit this, and I know I won't get sympathy from my non-teacher friends or friends that work through the summer...but I'm ready to go back to work. It seems I'm not very good at keeping myself busy enough to keep from getting tired of myself. It would be better if there were people to "play with" but most of my friends actually have lives and did things this summer. Granted, I cooked and baked up a storm and did gardening when the weather permitted, but mostly I read or invented reasons to leave the house. I knew I was in trouble the day I was excited about going to the grocery store.

So I don't sound like a total whiner, there were some great things this summer: learning more about guided reading in the class I took with Kelli, day trips to farms and museums and quaint towns with Larry (UNBELIEVABLY cool toy store in Newburyport called Eureka), a few weeks where I read two books a day, the time with Beth and Rebecca, and with Mom at the beginning of summer. And I did finally go to Walden Pond, which was lovely and a little bit spiritual. And I drove in the city twice without directions without getting lost! Okay, the summer wasn't a total waste.

I'm just used to being busy and on the go. So I know what to do differently next summer (in fact, if I don't work I'll definitely find a place to volunteer). And there's still a week left of this one and I have plans, so it will go out on a high note.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Good Weekend

I got a gift this weekend: two days with my husband, no baseball. (Not the Red Sox, but the team he plays on.) He skipped yesterday's game so we could go pick peaches, and today's was cancelled because the other team forfeited. While I don't mind him playing, this was nice.

We pick peaches at a place in NH called Applecrest Orchard. It's still early, so all they had were white peaches; they're good, but not as sweet and "peachy" as I like my eating peaches. That's okay though, because I turned a few pounds into freezer jam, and a few pounds will be turned into smoothies, and a few pounds will be turned into cobbler and barbecue sauce and... :) I'll just cook with these and we'll pick yellow peaches later. Those I eat over the sink, dripping them everywhere and smiling. Definitely my favorite fruit.

Today we went to the South End Open Market; it's a combination farmer's market and craft/stuff market. We got yummy bread and some vegetables (if I can't grow my own darned tomatoes this summer to make sauce, I'll buy them...), and picked up a gift for my sister-in-law. Then we walked to Flour, a bakery with the most amazing sticky buns I've ever had in my life.

After breakfast we wandered around the South End, which is quite a thriving community. It's an interesting mix of wealthy, middle class, and poor. For a long time, the area was primarily home to projects, but people started moving in and rennovating old buildings and it has yuppified in the last decade. The projects are still there, right in the middle. Every time we head into that area of the city, I wonder how the "people who were there first" feel about what has happened. Is it a case of being glad that the area is well-kept and bustling, or is it a case of "white people moving in and making things unaffordable." I suppose it's a mix. The only thing I know for sure is that Larry and I really like walking around the area.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Warning

I don't know how useful this post will be, since I don't know if anyone other than four of my friends reads it, but it might make me feel better...

Last spring Larry and I contracted with Boston Green Building to replace nine of our windows. They said it would take a day, and quoted a price (plus time and materials for trim). The estimate had a "10-15% contingency overage clause" which allowed that there might be things out of the contractor's control and costs could go up that much. We chose the company because they're "green" and we want to support that, and the price seemed reasonable.

The actual work took five days, and the final cost was almost 50% over what the original estimate stated. The company's stance is that they informed us that things were taking longer than they thought. Well, duh. The guy was here five days instead of one, so we might have noticed that. What they DIDN'T inform us of was that costs had spiraled so high. Naively, we thought that the work was still within the contingency clause. We thought that BGB would be honest enough to say that they'd hit the estimate ceiling, and they'd hit the clause ceiling, and that costs were going to be considerably over both.


Stay away from this company. We now suspect them of under-representing the time/money it would take so they could get the job. We also suspect them of using our house as a way to up their income: it was never clearly shown to either of us why the job took five days instead of one. All they'd say was, "The house is old and old houses have quirks." Sorry, but this old house and its owners aren't okay with "quirks" that cost us almost 50% more than we were quoted. I'm going to spread the word any way I know how.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Out of the ashes...

Well, okay, maybe it's not that extreme.

After discovering yesterday that pressure canning was not in my future, I began looking for recipes for the overload of beets I had (prematurely) ordered from our CSA. I found a recipe for "Harvard Beets for the Freezer," and used 8 of the beets to make that today. The recipe was very easy and fit nicely in a 3 cup container, which I slid into the freezer. I have to say, though, that it took a lot of willpower not to eat them immediately. They were fabulous, even without the butter that is added when reheated. And that! (If you're interested, the website is ) I'm thinking that even if you don't like beets, you might like these!!

I also found the perfect stainless steel crockpot to use for a boiling water bath on my stovetop, so I'm still in business for high-acid canning. And, I got 20% off of the pot!!

I've also lost another pound! (I know, that doesn't sound like much unless you've been "plateaued" for awhile.)

LeeAnn, it was a pink stone day!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Best Made Plans

My canner arrived today. It was heavy and solid...and on the side of the box it said, "Not for use on flat or glass topped stoves."
Funny, Amazon said nothing about that in its product review. Back in the box, back to Amazon. Back to the drawing board.
It turns out, you can't use any pot on a glass-top stove unless the pot has a flat bottom. This rules out most pressure canners (Presto makes one, but I can't find anywhere locally that will test the gauge, and I'm not willing to risk that) and boiling-water bath canners. I am now in search of a large, flat-bottomed, heavy-duty stock pot. I may not be able to pressure can, but at least I'll be able to put by tomatoes and other high-acid things, like chutneys.
Anyone have a lot of great recipes for beets? I bought a few pounds to pressure can...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Experiences Had and To Come

Being from Florida, Larry and I haven't spent a lot of time contemplating firewood, particularly since the first attempts to use the fireplace here in our house were fiascos. But like many people around the country, the desire to save on oil/fuel has driven us to look into alternatives. We know that burning firewood has its own negative consequences, but right now it is the lesser of two evils. We put a fireplace insert into the fireplace so that the previous billowing-smoke-in-the-living-room problem could be alleviated, and because friends of ours said that their's works wonders for heating. Next step: firewood.

We bought a half-cord of firewood this week, figuring that it's possible the cost will only go up once the weather cools down, and the company dumped it in our driveway. I spent Monday stacking most of it. I say "Monday" because the pile collapsed twice before I figured out how to arrange it properly. I must say, for my first woodpile it looks pretty good! :) Now if we could keep Montana from chewing on it...

The new experience to come: pressure canning. I put by a fair amount of tomatoes in the freezer last year, but I'm hoping to put even more by this year, and we don't have enough freezer space. Particularly because I want to put by blanched greens and squashes, and whatever else I can get in there. So, I spent Tuesday night agonizing over the purchase of a pressure canner. I have to say, it's a little anxiety inducing.

The reading I've been doing seems to spend a lot of time warning of impending botulistic doom if things are not PRECISELY right in the canning. This doesn't instill a lot of confidence in the newbie. Then, online reviews of the less expensive canners I looked at all seemed to have at least one reviewer saying, "First use, the thing exploded." Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds like a nightmare. So I doubled the purchase price and bought one that had absolutely no reviews about explosions. In fact, the only negative review said this canner takes too long to cool down and is heavy. I can live with that.

Now if the tomatoes would only ripen...

Monday, July 28, 2008


A 5 Minute Recipe for After You've Spent the Morning Stacking a Half-Cord of Firewood:

1 can tuna, packed in water, drained
1 can cannelini or other white bean, drained and rinsed
1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 can of artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 cup of tomatoes, chopped, whatever kind you have
a few leaves of raddichio, sliced thinly
a handful of basil, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste
a glug of balsamic vinegar (to taste)
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil

Mix gently and eat. It's even better after its flavors have had time to blend.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Well, it has finally happened. After three years of fairly healthy, disease and pest free plants the garden is being invaded. I've been picking and killing cucumber beetles today, and watching one of my San Marzano tomatoes be affected by early blight. The good news...I'm that the copper fungicide I have may help the plant get through at least a partial harvest. I've been scouring the 'net looking for help, and what I've come up with is to pick off the dead foliage (when it's dry--early blight is spread by fungus spores that thrive in damp, cooler weather) and spray with the copper.

In everything I read, the importance of rotating crops every year is stressed. What I HAVEN'T found yet is how to rotate crops in a garden that's 10x14 feet. If there is a limited amount of good tomato space, do I just not grow tomatoes for a year or two? I have to say, in my opinion that solution is for the birds. I suppose I could always grow fewer plants in pots for a few years. That isn't a solution I'm thrilled with either, but it's better than constantly fighting diseases or not having tomatoes at all.

I've also read that enriching the soil with compost is helpful, and I do that each year. I'll up the amount I've been using to "promote beneficial micro- and macroorganisms." Sigh. Ya wait six months to be able to grow tomatoes, and then things start attacking them. Who needs this anxiety! :)

In more cheerful news, Larry and I went blueberry picking yesterday, and picked six pints! On top of the three I had bought at the farmer's market, we're rolling in the beautiful blue jewels. I've made a blueberry tart (Eating Well magazine), frozen a few pints, and made "Farmgirl's Blueberry Breakfast Bars." Farmgirl (Farmergirl?) is a blogger whose posts I read for awhile last summer. The recipe is awesome, and it freezes well. That way, in December or January when I'm bummed about the lack of fresh fruit I can defrost the bars and pretend it's summer again. Tomorrow I'm baking cinnamon burst blueberry muffins (Cooking Light) for the same reason. Eat a few, freeze a few, Christine is a happy girl!

We also bought Ball jars for canning. I know it's probably bizarre, but I'm very excited about putting as much food by for the winter as I can. I'll do tomatoes (keeping my fingers crossed) and pickled beets, make green tomato chutney (if that plant doesn't make it, I'll at least be able to take its green ones and do something with them), and see what else I can learn to do. I've already started freezing cucumbers. It's an almost sweet pickle recipe, and the cucumbers come out with a little bite left when they're defrosted. I found and made the recipe last year and loved it. The more I can put by, the less Whole Foods can hold me hostage for organic foods this winter!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A small ice cream at lunch.
Half a round of brie with crackers.
A small ice cream after dinner.
Is it possible to be addicted to dairy?

I was reminded today, as I sat through the first day of a weeklong course on guided reading, how important it is for teachers to walk their talk. It is not okay to espouse a workshop model, or constructivist theory, and then subject students to 8 hours in their seats with narrow topics allowed for conversation. Allowing students to talk only around the topics you've prechosen is neither workshop nor constructivism.

On the positive side, learning about useful criteria for leveling books so that I can help put kids with the "just right" text is helpful. Though the process is labor and time intensive, having the information in the back of my mind as I approach the books/readers will assist me in narrowing down the occasional misses as I try to pair kids with books for independent reading. It was also a relief to hear the instructors repeat what the textbook said: leveling books is for the teacher's purpose. It is not so that we can label books with levels and train kids to only read books on their level, a la Accelerated Reader. Gradients and leveling are teacher tools for helping students find books with just the right supports and challenges.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We have a baby!

No, not Larry and I, but the cardinal pair that nested in our wisteria this spring. We're not sure when it hatched, but it is slowly making its way around our yard, guarded by its chirping parents. We aren't letting the dogs anywhere near the backyard, since that seems to be the venue the family has chosen for the baby's initial flights. We keep coming across it in different places. The parents have let me get close enough twice to take photographs, though they flit around nervously in the area. I feel strangely honored that this family has chosen our yard for its current home.

Advantage, Computer

My friend LeeAnn lives in Florida. My friend Jill lives in New Jersey. I live in Massachusetts.
And I can "sit across from them and talk face-to-face" almost like we're in Barnes and Noble having coffee, just like we used to on a regular basis.

It's definitely a love/hate relationship, but THIS aspect of technology is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I'll admit it: I'm not the world's biggest fan of technology. I am not of the ever-growing opinion that people should be able to get in touch with me 24/7.


I do like a fast computer. Or even a computer that will open Word in less than three minutes, which my last computer...departed this morning...was incapable of doing. It was an older laptop and I was just asking it to do too much. You know, like work when I wanted to use it.

Larry helped me find a new laptop, and he's happy because it has 4 GB of RAM. I'm happy because we saved money by buying the open box store model. Oh, and because with 4 GB of RAM, it all but anticipates the site I want to go to and *POOF* I'm there. I must say, that's a lovely feature. It also has a webcam, which means that I can Skype with my friends (as soon as I download Skype and figure out how to use the webcam...). I opted for the 17" screen, because let's be honest, my eyes aren't getting any younger. So technology curmudgeon that I am, I'm excited about the new computer. There, I said it.

I have been reading like a FIEND lately. I'm posting reviews on Shelfari--you can just click the link on this page if you want to read them--but here is a list of my favorites:
The Wednesday Wars by Schmidt
Hate Mail from Cheerleaders by Reilly
Charmed Life by Wynne Jones
Notes from the Midnight Driver by Sonnenblick
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by Lockhart
Lock and Key by Dessen
Life As We Knew It by Pfeffer
Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher
Peeled by Bauer
The Probable Future by Hoffman

I'm reading Bryson's Notes from a Small Island right now. I laughed all the way through A Walk in the Woods, so I picked up two more by him (can't remember the title of the other one). This one wasn't as funny to begin, but as I've read it's gotten funnier. He is irreverent, but very, very honest. At least, honest about how he sees things.

Beautiful weather this week; very sunny and breezy. We could use some rain (well, my garden could). Which just goes to show that no one is ever happy with the weather, doesn't it! I picked the first few cherry tomatoes this week--YUM!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whew, it's hot!

I know, it could be worse. I could be in Florida for July. But it definitely has FELT like Florida the last two days. The temperatures have been up in the 90's and the humidity has been above 50%. Oh well, the tomatoes are eating up the sun.

We've had a good few days here on the homefront. I've gotten lots of reading done (I'm finally posting things on my Shelfari site). I highly recommend Rick Reilly's Hatemail from Cheerleaders. I'll pull a lot from it to use with the students next year. Ugh. For some reason this stupid site is again not letting me insert paragraphs. I guess they'll just have to run into each other. On Sunday, we went to the Coventry (CT) Farmer's Market. It's something else. Lots of fresh from the ground (usually just that morning) produce, fresh baked breads and other yummies...a girl could lose her head. There are also artisans and demonstrations, so the day can be a pretty full one if you want it to. The market is on the site of the Hale House (Nathan Hale is CT's state hero). It's beautiful. Today, I met my friends Kelli and Ellen in the city, and we went and saw an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was all Spanish artists during the late 1400 to mid-1600 period. El Greco, Velasquez, and their schools were the focus; I love Spanish art from that period, so it was great to see the exhibit. Afterward we went to lunch and sat and chatted; it was a good time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

America, Land of the Free, the Brave, and the Clueless

Ah. The Fourth of July. The celebration of our nation's birth in the face of overwhelming odds. Here in Massachusetts, especially so close to Boston, the celebrations begin about June 20th. Firecrackers go off randomly and frequently every night, and houses are tarted up with enough American flags to dress an army. In our little neck of the state, the neighborhood celebrates July 3 with a huge block party and bonfire. The bonfire was about three stories high when I passed it the other day while walking the dogs. It always leaves some lovely charred debris all over the beach.

I think my favorite thing about July 3 is the roaming bands of teenagers. Larry and I are fortunate enough to live near two gathering spots: the front of the Congregational Church, and the parking lot of the elementary school. The teens descended last night around 10:30, just as Larry was trying to go to sleep. (He works on July 4th this year. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas. F*$%ing corporate America.) Anyway, about 20 of them parked themselves in front of our house, screaming and laughing.

After about half an hour, I had had enough so I went out front and told them to move on down the street. The darlings refused to move, so I threatened with the police. They moved about 20 feet down from the house. I get that there isn't anywhere for them to go. I'm not that far removed from those years that I don't remember being chased from one hangout to another by the Delray police. But when they can't keep it down to a dull roar and then start screaming like banshees (is there anything like the sound of a shrieking teenaged girl?) and beating the shit out of each other it's time to call the police. Which I finally did. The crowd dispersed, and I just sat and rocked on the front porch for a while. It was nice out.

The evening was capped only by the two having sex outside my office window, in the shadows provided by the church.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


It's always hard to know how to help the ones we love. I never know what to say or how to respond when my sister's heart is broken again by the louts she seems to choose as boyfriends. I can't come right out and say, "Stop choosing assholes," and have to dance around the issue so I don't offend her. I think I make all the right comments and balance my advice with sympathy, but I'm never really sure. The last boyfriend, whose nicknames we gave him are not fit to print here, had everything we kept telling her to find: a solid job, a car, a home of his own, an education, some drive.

But we didn't think we had to tell her he should also have some kindness, some acceptance, and support for her dreams, not just his. We wanted desperately to like him, but he talked non-stop, was condescending to her (the part I couldn't forgive...I could always buy earplugs), and thought he had to be a know-it-all about everything so he could impress. He was also moody and insecure. A barrel of laughs, that boy. But, and this is an important but, she thought she loved him and would marry him. And so even though we're relieved that she broke up with him, we're sad that she's so sad again. How do we help? How is it possible to help her understand that there is no rush to be married, and that being single is not the worst thing in the world?

I know, easy for me to say because I'm married. But I didn't get married until a month before my 32nd birthday. And while I lamented being single the 9 years that I was, I also made peace with it. I started to view myself that way--the single aunt who takes her nieces to Europe sometimes during the summers--instead of as a "spinster," which seemed to be how society viewed me. I dreamed up all kinds of glamorous options for the single me. And then Larry came along and it didn't matter... But if he hadn't, I would have been just fine. More than fine--happy. How do I help my sister find that?

Dilemma #2: My husband LOATHES his job. He hates it so much it's upsetting his stomach, keeping him awake, and giving him hang-dog face. Last night he talked about the three things he sees as critical in relation to work: time, money, and enjoyment. Of the two, he said the only thing he gets from his current job is money. And sadly, he said that he's not willing to give that up even though the other two are lacking. Larry used to like his job, trading currencies for an investment firm, but he finally was able to explain why it's not fun anymore: no satisfaction from having done something for someone. He talked about the joy I get when a kid who comes to me a non-reader leaves with a changed attitude at the end of the school year, and said he can't find anything to parallel that in his job.

I suggested finding something that would give him that joy: volunteering to play baseball with kids, doing some kind of service for others, or even taking something like a wood-working class so that when he was done with a project he could say, "I made that, and it's awesome!" He didn't love the baseball idea (said he didn't like kids, which I think is hooey--he's great with my nieces and my students) but he was less critical of the wood-working idea. So maybe I should look into that for him. And maybe I should look into a job counselor. There must be something else he can do to make himself a little happier. (That's the key though, isn't it? We have to be responsible for our own happiness, and find it wherever we are.)

Enough deep thoughts.

Have you tried Terra Chips Sweet Potato Cinnamon chips? Good God, they're like amazing crunchy candies. They've hit on a winner with those suckers! (And they're high in fiber and vitamin A, so they're almost healthy. Lower fat, too.)

I've been playing around with salad dressings--with so much lettuce coming in from the farm, we're eating it every night. Last night I made a salad with mixed lettuces, chopped apples, sliced zucchini, and halved grapes. I was making my favorite vinaigrette--white wine vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, olive oil--when I thought, "Hmm. Grapes, apples. Cinnamon." I sprinkled in a pinch of cinnamon, whisked it all up and poured it on the salad. After I did it, I thought, "Wait, cinnamon?" But it was good! It didn't clash with anything, and it enhanced the grapes and apples. Who'da thunk it?

I planted a climbing rose yesterday, near the front porch steps. It's fragrant, and my hope is that as it grows up and vines around the railing it will be strong enough to blow in the front windows during breezes. My mock orange, planted outside the kitchen window, was finally tall enough for that this spring, and it made me very happy to have the kitchen filled with the scent of orange blossoms when the breeze blew.

I've been photographing flowers and plants this spring and summer, and I think I'm going to make a "scrapbook journal" of my garden. I need to get on to printing some of the photos currently warehoused in the camera. Digital cameras are great, but it sure is easy to let the pictures languish in them. :)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

School ended June 16; I'm using the end of the year as my excuse for not blogging since May...

The garden went in as planned. There have been some moderate successes: we've eaten radishes, lettuce, swiss chard, sugar snap peas, spinach, herbs, and broccoli rabe from the backyard. The only things growing happily are the chard, lettuce, and herbs. We got 14 whole sugar snap peas...with some carrots, they made a nice little side dish. I'm hoping for more success when I plant out at the end of the summer.

We're still awaiting tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and melons. Keep your fingers crossed for us! Of course, we're not in any danger of starving. Our CSA shares have begun, and we're eating amazing vegetables each week from a farm in Amherst.

Some highlights from the spring/early summer:

-the cardinal pair that have nested in the wisteria outside the kitchen window;

-the new climbing rose out front;

-the three new rugosa roses from North Creek Farm in Maine (they're doing spectacularly). I've included a picture of the Polareis shrub;

-not having to transplant a shrub I thought I would have to...meaning I got to buy another plant for the place I thought I was going to put the shrub. :)

Mom came to visit the week school let out. She's always wonderful to be around, and we had a great time walking, talking, gardening, cleaning, and eating together. Mom's really good at gently goading me into getting projects done, so my front porch looks great. She also helped me plant a new bed out front, which seems to be doing well. (Liatris and lamb's ears are the current stars, but they'll be joined by others next season as I see how they fill in.) On the Wednesday that she was here, Larry had the day off and we went to Concord for the afternoon. Mom wanted to see Orchard House, home of the Alcotts, so we toured that and also the downstairs of the Concord Museum. We picnicked in Minuteman National Park, and it was a beautiful day.

Saturday we took her to Gloucester and Rockport, and she was just thrilled with both of them. They are quintessential New England sea towns, and their quaintness factors were very high. It was fun to hear her keep exclaiming over things. Mom and I stuck our feet in the water in Rockport. Cold like ice, but not too bad as we stood there awhile.

This past Wednesday Beth and Rebecca came up from Orlando. One of the first things I said to them as we made plans Wednesday night was, "I don't drive in Boston." Famous last words...

On Thursday, we drove to Walden Pond, had lunch in Concord and visited two bookstores. Rebecca said she'd like to see Cambridge, and feeling brave I decided to attempt it. I knew Mass Ave. went from Lexington to Cambride (heck, almost to the house) so I thought I 'd just hop on and keep my fingers crossed. While I didn't actually manage to stay on Mass Ave., I did manage to get us to Harvard Square, where I parked so we could walk around the grounds of the university. I never get tired of Harvard Yard. We went in another bookstore, and had coffee. Then I managed to find our way to Jake's Seafood for dinner, and then on home.

As if my derring do on Thursday wasn't enough, on Friday I drove into the city, parked under the Commons, and then at the end of the day drove them (and Susan, their principal) to Wellesley where they're attending a conference. For some reason, having them in the car didn't make me nervous about attempting the driving. Normally, I'm terrified of getting lost or screwing up in the city, and it's exacerbated by company. I felt pretty darned proud of myself!

We had a great visit. It was nice to be with friends that are the comfortable kind, because we've known each other so long. (Well, I haven't known Rebecca that long, but she's been part of Beth's circle for so long it seems like it.) The conversations were easy and flowing, and silence wasn't a problem. Not that I don't have friends like that here in Massachusetts, but Beth and I go back to the summer of '97 and the Central Florida Writing Project, so it's different. It's like family.

Today has been chilly; never above 68 and cloudy. Tonight the fog has rolled in off the water, and it brought with it the smell of the ocean. Salty, with decaying seaweed. I will forever associate that smell with Hough's Neck. I love it.

Just finished reading The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman. It is set in Massachusetts, which is nice. Every so often there was the familiarity of places or events that I know firsthand. It was a good story about family and redemption for the many ways that families hurt each other while loving each other. There was a bit of the magical about it, in the special "gift" that each Sparrow girl received when she turned 13, but also in Hoffman's descriptions of places. Her use of the flora and fauna of the New England woods and marshes made the setting very vivid for me.

I'm hoping for some sun tomorrow. The lawn needs mowing, weeding needs doing, and so does some transplanting. A gardener's work is never done. Yay! :)

Friday, May 16, 2008


We are MCAS'ing today. As much as I loathe these tests on so many levels, they are good times for reflection, reading and thinking. During our three hours today, I thought about how I'd like to rearrange the classroom, how I could have been a better teacher to these kids, how I'm looking forward to summer and tomatoes...lots to ponder. I'm also reading When Kids Can't Read by Kylene Beers. It's phenomenal. I can't say enough about the practical information contained in this book. I don't know why I waited so long--it has been on my shelf for about five years, I think. Combined with what I've read in Reading Don't Fix No Chevy's, Boy Writers, and Inside Words, I have a lot of reworking I want to do with my curriculum next year so that I can better help our struggling kids. I've let our school's curriculum dictate what's happening in my room for too long now. Next year the kids are first, not the curriculum. Period.

During the test I was glancing around at the kids to make sure everyone was doing what they should, and I caught Vincent with his book open in his lap, totally ignoring his Math MCAS. Now, I'd like to say that I was distressed. Honestly, I was DELIGHTED. Vincent didn't read much at the beginning of the year; he had trouble knowing what he liked and finding books that weren't too hard (or too boring). He's completely engrossed in the Cirque du Freak series right now, and he loved David Lubar. Of course, I told him to put the book away and keep working on his test...but he knew that I was secretly pleased. I LIVE for moments like this! :)

Tomorrow Larry and I are driving down to Lichtfield, Connecticut to visit White Flower Farm. The story behind the owners and the farm start-up is charming, and I love that they continue with the "Amos Pettingill" deception. (The farm was actually started by two wealthy New York City escapees--you can read about it in...oh, heck. I'll have to look up the title.) Anyway, the catalog and website are delightful. I'm hoping to score some liatris and some great shade plants. I've already ordered my bulbs from them, to be delivered in September. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with 150 tulip and daffodil bulbs...but it's my kind of dilemma!

We also ordered beef from them. White Flower has just started their own all natural livestock raising and sales and we thought we'd give it a shot. We'll pick that up, too... since shipping would have been over $50! I understand, but whew. Besides, I wanted an excuse to visit the farm.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


"What are friends for, my mother asks.
a duty undone, visit missed,
casserole unbaked for sick Jane.
Someone has just made her bitter.

Nothing. They are for nothing, friends,
I think. All they do in the end--
they touch you. They fill you like music."
--Rosellen Brown

We were in Kansas, or Missouri maybe. Or maybe it was Florida; the trips begin to run together. It was hot--July--so hot the pool almost wasn't refreshing. The hotel rooms were cool, with their air conditioners and polyester floral print bedspreads. Katie was there with Stephanie, just a little girl. We cooed and oohed and aahed and talked babies and books and teaching. Sara was absolutely in love, besotted, with this grandbaby, and she was unselfish and generous in her willingness to share her family's joy with all of us.

The flip side is that today we share her grief. Stephanie is gone, aged 7 (just barely). And I cannot stop thinking of that day in the hotel room, with that beautiful blonde baby girl who was making her mother and grandmother so happy. Who always made her mother and grandmother so happy. I do not know what to say, or do.

But I do know that Sara and her family have touched us--me--and filled us with music. And though there are no words, I hope that they know that I am full up with and for them, and I am so very sorry.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

At what point do we as teachers say, "Enough is enough. There was a deadline and I do you no favors by constantly allowing you to turn things in late." I know that the point is the learning: what did the student learn that is documented in this assignment. But what are they learning if they never meet deadlines, or constantly lose and ask to do over assignments, and we always let them? For how long during the school year can we say, "Yes, it's okay that your printer ran out of ink," before kids think, "Hey! I don't have to meet deadlines or be responsible. I can just say I had no ink!" I am at the end of my patience with this, particularly since it is fourth term and these kids are going to high school next year. Our high school is no-nonsense, and so many of these students are just going to sink--or else rapidly mature this summer. I think it's good that spring break is next week. I need to be away from them. They're like little soul-suckers right now.

My Burpee order came today. I have twelve seedlings, five bare root raspberry plants, and three dormant lilies waiting for the time to be right (which will be as soon as they're acclimated to being outside in the sun). Today was another beautiful day; the kind that lulls you into thinking, "I could put my tomatoes out under row covers it's so nice!" But I didn't. I'm saved from that temptation by making sure I ordered my warmer veggies to come in after May 1. I know myself too well...

I did plant rhubarb, though...

Monday, April 14, 2008

With Spring come thoughts of Shakespeare...and Sugar Snap Peas

My students have turned in their poetry books, and it's on through the curriculum hike into Shakespeare. We "bridged" today with sonnets, which went better than I expected. The typical bugaboos: it's hard, he's not speaking English (?!), I don't get iambic pentameter. Beautifully, we avoided most of them. I started with a quick activation of background knowledge, and then I took the first line of sonnet 130 (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun) and put one syllable on ten sheets of paper. The unstressed syllables were written normally, the stressed were in bubble letters. I got ten volunteers (one for each syllable page) to come to the front of the room, and we practiced saying the line in sing-song quiet BOLD voices. When were were done, I had the volunteers pair up into their "iambs" and we defined iambic pentameter. Every kid seemed to get it. Then we read sonnets and talked about them, and the kids defined the form and worked on tackling their own. All in all, a good beginning to the unit.

To add to my good day at work, when I got home the sun was still shining and it was in the 50's, so I planted some seeds! I worked in about 180 pounds of compost (wow--when I write that it sounds like a lot more than it felt like while I was doing it...) and planted radicchio, fennel, arugula, sugar snap peas, kale, radishes, swiss chard, huazontle (Aztec/Mexican spinach) and spinach. I was so overly excited my husband has taken to calling me Garden Geek.

After a yummy dinner (Rachael Ray's Artichoke and Spinach Pasta--like the appetizer, only with pasta) we took the pups for a long walk. There was a huge freighter being maneuvered through Quincy Bay into the Fore River, so we watched it and its three tugboats for awhile. I love ships; they're so massive and airy and squat and graceful all at the same time. This one was riding pretty low in the water, so we figure it had some freight to deliver. She was called Sylvia's Express--not an especially glamorous name, but a very imposing sight none the less.

Our walks are especially wonderful right now. "Nature's first green is gold," and it's showing up all over the neighborhood. Their are daffodils and hyacinths everywhere, and the forsythia are beginning their golden showers of bloom. The neighborhood has a few large magnolias, and their creamy pinkish white blooms are filling the air with their scent. Plants are leafing out all over, and I find myself walking around saying things like, "Hello, Mr. Catmint! It's so great to see you back!" Garden Geek, indeed. It is a label I wear happily, though.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hopeful Folly

I planted a Highbush Blueberry today.

I know. It's not even April yet. I couldn't help it.

My semi-delusional train of thought:
"Ooh! Blueberries! Yum!"
"Well, we can still get some crazy weather..."
"Yes, but look, it already has buds. I bet the ones that are planted in the ground all over New England already have buds. It must be okay for them to be out in this weather."
"Um. But they're already established."
"Okay. But technically this one is established. I mean, it didn't grow in this pot all winter did it? It probably grew in the ground somewhere, and they dug it up and potted it for sale. So it's used to this weather..."

You can see the problem. An excuse for every common sense thought. I planted it in the backyard, up against the white fence, where the soil was already workable down three feet. That seems like a good sign to me. Of course, probably because I WANT it to seem like a good sign.

I also planted two pansies in my front porch urns. Montana promptly ate the flowers off of the yellow one while my back was turned for about 30 seconds. I almost killed him. He's now under house arrest--no outside unless strictly supervised. I'm a bit at my wit's end with his plant-eating. I've never seen a dog like this before. Why couldn't he be like Blue, and just eat my million dollar bra and panty sets from Victoria's Secret? Oh, right. Because I don't shop there anymore. Seriously, though, I'd rather he ate...well, I'm just not going to put that into the cosmos. With my luck he'd keep eating plants AND eat whatever I was just going to mention.

It got up to 50 degrees today, and was brilliantly sunny. AND!!! AND!!! Our favorite ice cream shop is open again!!!

This was definitely a "pink stone day," to steal one of LeeAnn's sayings.

Next week: enlarge the vegetable garden again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Early Mornings

Most people who know me know that I'm not much of a morning person. I love to sleep in and be lazy any chance I get. Isn't it funny that getting a puppy has completely changed that...? Every morning the dogs are up a few minutes (or hours, as in the case of today) before our alarms go off, and when they're up, I'm up. I used to have this uncanny ability to fall back to sleep even after wandering the house for awhile, but that seems to have fled. Sadly.

The funny thing is, as irritated as I would have been even a few months ago by this behavior, I don't seem to mind it too much. I mean, last Wednesday when I stayed home sick and the dogs woke me up at 4:30 a.m. I minded...but most of the time I don't. On Saturday, Tundra woke me up at 6:30--waaay too early for a Saturday. But as I stood in the kitchen while the dogs ate, I watched a beautiful sunrise from our kitchen window. And then I got to do that again on Sunday. Soooo...I guess morning isn't all that bad.

Though if the dogs wanted to sleep until seven, that would be okay too.

I'm excited about the fact that I'm trying to start a new book club at school. I've extended the invitation to all of the English teachers at the middle and high school, and added the Spanish and French teachers at the middle school, as well. It's become clearer to me that hooking kids for literacy is difficult across ALL languages, and the "foreign language" teachers might have an interest in those kinds of book discussions. (I don't know why it took so many years of teaching to realize that, but hopefully it's a case of better late than never...) We're starting with Reading Don't Fix No Chevy's by Wilhelm and Smith, since boys and literacy is a hot topic at our school right now. I have two definite takers so far, and hopefully a few more will join too. It would be so great to have a professional community to be part of!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Puppy pee and garden planning

The downside to having a puppy: having to move the stove to get at the place where his pee has run.
The upside to having a puppy: everything else. :)
Montana and Tundra just get more and more fun to hang out with. I may eventually never leave home again! (Okay, that might be hyperbole.)

The weather is not pretty today. The temperature is bearable--40 degrees, but it's raining and has been since last night. The good news is I'm seeing the upward trend in temperature, which I didn't expect to see for another few weeks. I know that an early spring is not necessarily a good thing, but I must say it makes me happy (if that is indeed what's happening). Of course, tomorrow night is supposed to be back down to 16 degrees...hopefully it won't do too much damage to the plants that are starting to wake up.

I've started planning this year's garden (well, on paper--I already did the buying!). It's a good way to keep occupied while I wait.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Signs of Spring

I was poking around listlessly in the backyard yesterday when I saw a distinct flash of deep, bright, spring green poking its little head out of the ground. It seems that one of my hyacinths from last year may have survived the squirrel raid! A few feet away, chives were pushing their thin blades up through the icy surface, and over in the shade garden, the hellebores were sending up the shoots that will be their flowers. The unearthly pale green mixed with the faintest blush of rose makes the shoots look fragile, though their thickness looks sturdy. I'm hoping the hellebores will bloom in March, like all of the books say they should. (Obviously, the above picture is not what my plants look like right now...but they will!!)

Other signs appeared once I looked a little more closely. The forsythia buds have started to swell and the tarragon and bleeding hearts are sending up shoots. My neighbor's tulips are starting to make their appearance above-ground, as well. I figured it might be time, so I went ahead and took down the pine garland that was on our fence out front... :)

I think my husband was a little mortified that it was still there, but I needed the green! I'm of the opinion that in the frozen north, we should leave Christmas decorations up until Spring is providing its color. Needless to say, I am not in the majority.
Tundra and Montana have started an interesting habit. Unfortunately, Larry and I are amused by it. I'm guessing guests won't be, but we won't have discouraged it enough to stop it. (Well, maybe when Montana is no longer a puppy, it won't be as much fun and they'll stop it on their own.) As soon as Larry and I sit down to dinner in the dining room, the dogs take it as play time. They chase each other around the table, and then lie under it at our feet and wrestle. We have a glass-topped table, so we can watch them as we eat. Dinner theater!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's the Little Things

...and today's little thing is that Montana didn't leave a mess on the floor for me to clean up this afternoon! Yay!! That's twice this week. I'd like to say that he's getting the hang of this don't-pee-in-the-house thing, but it may also be that Mommy's getting the hang of the make-sure-he-does-all-his-business-outside-in-the-morning thing, versus him just playing in the yard. Right now he's wrestling with Tundra. Two outcomes are possible: he'll irritate her into submission, or she'll overpower him into submission. Either way, there will be a yelp and a necessity for separate corners for ten minutes. I may not have birthed them, but I definitely mother them!

I am seeing some positive things at work, which is heartening. I was approached by my department head in regards to a reading "program" that I worked on--and think is a valuable component in an English classroom--because the school is considering it for the sixth grade. She also brought me a professional development opportunity, which is a first for me since coming to the town. Usually I have to seek all of these out myself, so it's good to have the other pair of eyes helping. And to crown it all, we had an amazingly productive 8th grade curriculum meeting on Tuesday. That hasn't happened in at least two years--imagine two years of frustrating, bi-weekly meetings that make you want to pull your hair out... . So, I am hopeful.

We've started our poetry unit. A number of the kids opted to read poetry during silent reading today. Big smile!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Glorious sunshine

Today was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It got all the way up to the low 40's, and we had sunshine for about 9 1/2 hours. The snow isn't too gray and gross yet, so it sparkles. Walking the dogs was lovely. Montana is doing his best to romp along with Tundra. We have to keep reminding him that he has to walk on both back legs, rather than hop on them. He has to build his muscles back up from the surgery. He's a trooper, though!

Yesterday was a good day, too. My friend Kelli came for lunch (grazing...mmm...) and then we talked about dogs (she has two gorgeous greyhounds--the musculature on those dogs is amazing), gardening, school, books, etc. A quiet but happy afternoon. She took some stunning pictures of the dogs; her photoblog is at Don't miss it!

Last night Jen and Ian came to dinner. It's always good to see them. They're totally down to earth and good stuff. A full, enjoyable day.

I believe that this weekend was a "my cup is full" kind of thing. Aside from minor inconveniences (a doctor's appointment, the grocery store on Saturday--*shiver*) it was a reminder of how lucky Larry and I are. The snow fell all day on Friday, and because it was light and powdery, shoveling was more like an interesting break in the exercise routine versus a total pain in the neck. We played with the two best dogs in the world, we ate yummy food (I keep forgetting how much I like Havarti cheese, for some reason), and we hung out with great friends. I got to sleep in on Sunday, Larry on Saturday, and I got to leisurely read whatever I wanted to focus on at that moment. (The March "Cooking Light" has some AWESOME looking Maple recipes. Larry and I will be making the Bacon Maple Waffles. Mmm...bacon...)

And to top it all off, today was a reminder that yes, spring will actually come eventually. The day was beautiful and the daffodils that Kelli brought me began opening their ruffled yellow and white faces. Note to self: plant more bulbs in the fall. The random tulips and single crocus--though lovely--could use some friends. I think I'll leave the existing tulips where they are, contrary to conventional wisdom though it be. There's something very amusing about the ones that pop up in the middle of the yard (transplanted by squirrels, I'm sure).


Friday, February 22, 2008

Snowy day with puppies

It has been snowing since about 8 a.m. today. Funny how not having to work means that this snowfall is lovely... So far it has been a soft powder, and has accumulated about three inches. Watching the pups play in it is fun. Montana romps through it, Tundra does a stately walk, and both of them come in with snow dusting their noses after sniffing through it and licking it. A few times I've looked out the window and they were chasing each other, kicking up little puffs in their wake. Tundra lets Montana win most of the time, but occasionally shows him who is boss and knocks him (gently) on his butt. She's a good big sister. I keep having this ridiculous trouble typing in this blog. Please excuse the paragraphing; everytime I hit return the cursor bounces into the ether. Not sure what's going on. This afternoon the pups and I had some fun. Tundra is a little whiny because she had her teeth cleaned yesterday. She wanted to go out, but had just come inside so I wasn't letting her. She was whining and talking, and so I whined and talked back. Little Montana perked up his ears, listening first to one of us and then the other. Then he joined in! It was great--we had our own little living room chatfest. They're both able to reach a much higher pitch than I am.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Puppy Pictures

This is our new little cutie.
Keep your fingers crossed for the rug... :)
So far, Tundra is a pretty good big sister.

Oh Happy Day!

Guess who came home with us!? We picked Montana up from the shelter today around 3:30. So far he's chomped on a plant, romped around the yard with Tundra, and peed on the kitchen floor. We have a puppy!!

Montana's back legs are shaky from the surgery, of course, but he's moving around like a champ. We learned today that he has no hip bone because of the accident. The ball of his ball and socket joint is where the fracture was, and there is no way to fix that. The doctors removed it, and now he'll have to strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to compensate. He may also grow new bone, since he is so young. I've already spent at least an hour just mooning at him (that would be the "gazing" mooning...) and I just caught Larry doing so. Montana just stares back with these placid, icy blue eyes. Holy cow he's cute!

On a completely different subject, I just finished reading Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food. The subtitle, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." sums it up well. The book goes over some of the same ground as Omnivore's Dilemma, but there's new research and information here. I particularly enjoyed learning about what has been termed "nutritionism," which like every other "ism" has its pitfalls. Though the links are circumstantial, I have to agree with him that "nutritionism" combined with our government's policies toward food have helped to create the obesity epidemic we're seeing in America.

The advice he gives (mainly fleshing out the subtitle so it's less cheeky and more helpful) makes sound sense. Avoid foods with ingredients that you can't pronounce/that look like the stuff of chemistry lab ingredients. Shop the outside of the grocery store, or better yet the farm or farmer's market. Pay for organic when you can afford it. (He discusses the average amount of money Americans pay for food versus what people in healthier societies pay--we pay way less, and have waaay more health problems. We also eat waaay less well. Microwave meals instead of a three course Italian meal enjoyed with family and friends, anyone?) Focus on leaves, versus seeds and meats. By leaves he means plants, of course. By seeds, he means soybeans, corn, rice, wheat, etc. Though they can be healthier than an all meat diet, seeds are higher in fats and proteins which causes us to gain more weight than if we ate from the leaves side of the animal kingdom. And the chapters dealing with the high fat/low fat debate are really enlightening. In fact, reading this has freed me up some around that issue. Too long to explain here, though. Anyway, it was a good book.

I think I'm going to read Fast Food Nation next. Might as well; it's not like I can be any more convinced that eating fresh and organic, and local when possible, is the way to go!

Did I mention there's a really cute puppy (and a beautiful older puppy) in the house? :)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Drivel Alert

The gray dusk outside my windown fits my mood perfectly this afternoon. I feel utterly defeated, and today's drizzle is making sure I stay that way. Oh for a forsythia bush to explode into bloom about now...

Things are going well with my classes, knock on wood. The students are all enjoying the book we're reading, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands. The expressions of sheer, total boredom on their faces were apparently to deceive me. (I was so desperate, I flat out asked, "So, do you guys hate this book or what?" The explosion of "no's!" was wonderful.) Every class sat and argued in their groups for five minutes today about who the most important minor character is, and every kid had an opinion that they wanted to back up. Which is good, because that's the essay assignment...

I have a student who told me that she can't live without me, and I can't be absent anymore (I missed a day last week due to a bug). That's always nice to hear, especially since I love this kid dearly.

What's my problem, you might ask. I can't seem to shake the feeling that everything I believe in about education is anathema to the school where I teach. Joy? Fun? Love of reading, writing and learning? THEY'RE NOT TESTED ON MCAS, SILLY WOMAN! And not only is what I believe completely off the radar for everyone who makes the major decisions, but the teachers in our school who traumatize kids--embarrass them in front of peers, tell them they're stupid, etc.--THEY win awards. Go figure. I'm so bleah I can barely hold my head up. It sure would be nice to teach in a place where kids, their learning, and good teachers are valued.

On a happy note, Larry and I are probably going to go see Montana this weekend in our push to be chosen as his "adoptive parents." I'm all for shameless self-promotion if it means this puppy can come home with us.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl, Schmooper Bowl

I know it makes me absolutely un-American (but then, there are lots of opinions that I hold that seem to do so these days) but I hate football, and I hate the nonsense that surrounds the Super Bowl. I had a lovely evening out with my friend Kelli--we met at Barnes and Noble mid-afternoon and hung out, drifted through the Public Garden and the Commons while she took some really cool pictures, and then wandered over to Faneuil Hall for dinner. I've been home ten minutes and the tension in this house is ridiculous. My husband just finished yelling at the top of his lungs at the television, which I assume means the Giants have just done something that pushed them ahead score-wise. Ugh. It will be like a funeral in this stupid state tomorrow if the Giants win. Could we get some perspective, maybe...?

Okay, rant over.

Larry and I had the honor of meeting an amazing animal yesterday. To make a long story short, we heard about a Tundra-look-alike puppy at our local animal shelter. He's been hit by a car and is still recovering from surgery but will eventually be adopted out. His name is Montana, and we really hope we can adopt him. We're keeping our fingers crossed. He had the sweetest little face, and he's been through so much already; we would love to give him a good, happy home. (And we'd love to give Tundra someone to keep her company.)

Well, it's late and I have to work tomorrow, but I hadn't posted in a while so I thought I'd hop on. Hopefully next time there will be more to say!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I just got home from work and discovered that someone has nicked our trash can. The lid is still in the recesses of the driveway, but the trash can...gone. I know that in the scheme of things that can (and still could) go wrong today, this is minor. But damn, I'm really irritated! You know, in that sputtering, indignant, not-quite-sure-what-to-say kind of way. Nevermind the fact that it was OUR trash can. Now we have to go spend the money to buy a new one, take the time to go buy a new's the little things like this that add up, isn't it? We read about people who have just snapped--in either a violent way, or a loopy kind of way--and we think, "Good grief, what is WRONG with that person?" But we never know, maybe it was one stolen trash can too many. Or one useless meeting, or repetitive memo, or whining child...

I suppose it is a good reminder that I don't want to be some person's stolen trash can. (See how I'm trying to put a positive spin on this? My chiropractor said I can't control other things, only my reaction to them... Hopefully that train of thought will start working!!)

Just finished a fabulous book, One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell. He's got this wry, dryly passionate tone as he writes about his garden and gives advice and I found myself laughing out loud often. If you're interested in that sort of thing, I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Starlings, Darling

I have to admit that before I became a gardener, I didn't pay much attention to the natural world. I mean, I thought the beach was pretty and the mountains were awesome...but I was more interested in the displays at Burdines and Express. (Those were thinner, younger days...) Gradually my attention shifted to Williams-Sonoma and Barnes and Noble, but still not much outdoors. It's a shame, because Florida has such amazing flora and fauna, and I "squandered" the better part of 26 years paying little attention to it. Well, I'm making up for lost time now that I live in New England!

One of my more recent purchases was a bird book for Massachusetts so that I could recognize some of the many birds that visit our yard. Today I actually made a positive identification! European Starlings landed in a flock in our front yard and proceeded to chitter and peck for about fifteen minutes. They were fearless, not even flinching at the whining of our dog. Their beaks are seriously sharp looking, and I read that they change colors depending on the seasons. The book didn't say why, so I'll have to look it up. There must have been about 40 of them. Very cool. (Even if they are non-native and aggressive, they're still pretty neat.) It makes me want to make sure that I have a variety of plants (and feeders) so that I can attract even more. This gardening thing seems to touch of so many different topics: food, wildlife, environmental issues, health. I'm so glad I started!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Narratology: The Church of Scientology for Book Lovers?

Some seeds came in the mail today! Fennel, radicchio, arugula, chervil, huazontle (it's been described as "spinachy"), chives, and broccoli rabe. I'm a little excited, though it's tempered by the thought that we might get some more snow tonight...and it's still only January.

Last night I (think) I came to the end of an odyssey that started about a year ago, with a letter from the state. Though my actual qualifications would show otherwise, according to the all-mighty Oz, I am not "certifiable" to teach English in Massachusetts. Because my Master's degree is in English Language Arts and not English, I apparently am not suited to teach the class I have been successfully teaching for the last four and a half years. Whatever. It doesn't matter what I think; if the state says it's so, I'm powerless against it. I had to begin exploring routes to certification.

It seemed to me, for about six months, that the best route was twelve graduate credit hours in English at a college or university. I explored the local schools, and chose Simmons. It seems like an interesting place, and they had a program designed for people in my exact situation. I enrolled, and was to start classes on Jan. 28.

On Jan. 15 I received an email from the professor, via my advisor, that prior to the class I should contact her. Based on my curriculum vitae, she didn't think I was fit for the class. Hot on the heels of that email were the expectations for our first class: we were to have read 21 young adult novels (none published after 1991), three articles on literary criticism relating to y.a., the first two chapters of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, two chapters from a textbook on literary criticism, the reward criteria from two y.a. awards, and the information on this year's award winners.

When I spoke to her on the phone (she wished to speak to me about my disadvantage based on my Master's degree in education vs. English) she told me that each week we would spend three hours in class, 10-12 hours on work outside of class, read four books a week, and write two papers a week.

Now, I've been out of college a long time; I'll admit that. But I must say that as someone who in the past has pushed and in the present is capable of pushing herself very hard, those criteria sounded absolutely ludicrous to me. I, and many of the other students enrolled in this class, work a full time job. As a friend put it, "What is she trying to prove? That she has the power over you to make you do all of this?" To top it all off, listening to the goals of the class it occurred to me that NOTHING in it was going to be valuable to me as a teacher of 8th grade English. Our focus would be narratology and the ideology and criticism of y.a. novels based in that theory.

Um. What? And how is this going to help me get books into the hands of non-readers, and improve reluctant readers and writers? So, in essence, the state is saying that regardless of whether or not what they want for my certification will actually make me a better English teacher, I have to do it. Who let these momos make these decisions...?

Strangely, it never occurred to me in all of this circus that a road to certification was available to me that was meaningful, challenging, and relevant. It's highly ironic, too, since it's a road I have traveled before and continue to value as one of the best things I have ever done as a teacher. I'm going to become a National Board Candidate again, only this time instead of History, I'll be attempting certification in English. I feel good about this decision. It's going to be hard, it will make me cry, it will make me cranky...and I might not pass. But I'll learn, and as a result my kids will learn. It's a win-win.

I should start stockpiling chocolate now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thinking positively

I am frustrated with my students today, so I've decided to write about all of the good things about them that I can think of:

-Brendan, who keeps challenging me with new books every Wednesday, and seems genuinely happy that I take his recommendations;
-Alex (both of them, male and female) who participates in class, always has a sunny and/or humorous disposition (or a quiet, kind one--male) and is an all around nice kid ;
-Amy, who on even days that she gives me a headache impresses me with her intelligence and excitement over being moved into above-level;
-Liam, who just makes me laugh;
-Conor, who is just a nice kid;
-Chris, John, and Dan, who are nice, intelligent, and treat other people as if they're actually human (and laugh at my jokes most of the time);
-Ludjy, who is just a nice kid, and turns out to be able to do great, humorous impressions;
-Huguette, who is sassy but gets away with it because she is also thoughtful and passionate;
-Vincent, who seems to be turning it around;
-Tiffany, who is sassy and gets away with it because under it all she is kind and she cares;
-T.J., who everyone expects to under-perform but has already read two long books this year and almost always has his homework;
-my whole fifth period, for having a personality;
-Kings, for not letting her disability get her down and for being such a voracious reader;
-Jacky, for taking on immense responsibility at home, and still being on the ball at school;
-Carolyn, for being a nice person;
-Derek, for being goofy and immature and really smart and willing to learn;
-Jay, for being a nice kid;
-C.J., for being a nice kid who works hard to overcome the things that get in his way.

Okay, that's a good list. It makes me feel better about going into work tomorrow.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Rapidly losing confidence in my "superiors"

Today, one of my administrators said the words," Right now, our only goal is to get the scores up on our English and Math state test scores."

After my head stopped spinning and the nausea subsided, I pondered the futility of saying anything. I decided that in our scheduled twenty minute meeting, it was pretty futile and let it go. Afterward, I sent each of the administrators a link to the Beating the Odds study done by the McREL foundation. Their finding that "beating the odds" schools saw the state test as the floor and not the ceiling keeps swimming through my head.

I used to think that Orlando was testing happy. Then I moved to teach in M*&$%n, and I found out what test happy really meant. It is doubly dangerous in the hands of people who are managers, but not educators (between them, our four administrators have a combined total of less than twenty years in the classroom). The decisions that teachers and students are subjected to on a daily basis are at best arbitrary, and at worst harmful for the goal of creating life-long learners and thinkers. What it boils down to is that our district has been "tagged" a certain number of years in a row, and if we don't show improvement in our "sub-groups" we could be up for state take-over. Our administrators' goals are simple: keep their jobs and pull up test scores, actual learning be damned. Sadly, the decisions they keep making don't seem much in line with doing anything that will improve test scores. And they definitely aren't doing anything that make kids eager, ready, and willing to learn. (Mandated three hours of homework at the middle school level, anyone? And then they wonder why our kids hate school so much...)

Anyway, on a more positive note, a friend I haven't spoken to in at least seven years tracked me down and emailed me today. We were roommates for two and a half years in our college days, and I'm really excited to be back in touch with her. We've been friends as long as my husband and I have; I met them both in sixth grade! It's these occasions that remind me of the wonder of the internet.

By the way, if anyone is looking for a decadent dessert, may I recommend the Caramel Apple Cake in Rachael Ray's November 2007 issue. Just make sure you cut yourself a really small piece...

(I'm actually thinking that you could halve the frosting recipe, double the apple recipe, and instead of frosting the whole cake just frost the sides and then top it with half of the apples (the other half goes between the layers). I've spent too much time reading Cooking Light to be totally comfortable with the abomination of butter we baked. Though it is mighty tasty, I must say!)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Giddy with anticipation...

Okay, okay, I have one thing on the brain. And oh, how much it has changed from the one thing that was on the brain when I was in my twenties...!

Last year, I ordered seedlings from The Natural Gardening Company; they're organically grown, and no GMO crops. Everything except the peppers did really well, and the peppers were my fault because I planted them too early. And they did all bear, so they weren't a total wash or anything. I just placed this year's order, and I'm ridiculously, prematurely ecstatic. They won't come in until May 4th at the earliest, but that doesn't matter!

I've ordered eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes again (may I recommend the Brandywine, Juliet, and San Marzano tomatoes, and the Fairy Tale eggplants?) but I've also ordered some things I've never grown (or had) before, like sorrel and Noir des Carmes Melons. Sorrel keeps creeping up in things I'm reading, so I figured what the heck. It is supposed to be good in eggs, salads, soups, etc. The melon is like a canteloupe, apparently, but is not so large.

This year I decided to order some of my herbs from them as well. I've had trouble finding good Greek Oregano around here, so that's in the basket. I also bought Foxgloves in the lovely shade of apricot. Is it May yet?

You know, the only reason I make it through February and March is that I'm teaching poetry to the kids. I use poetry with them all year--as our beginning of class reading, to spur thought/writing, to tie with something else that we're doing--but the big reading/writing/exploring unit is at the end of winter. The timing is good, because it often coincides with things like my first robin sightings, the lone purple crocus in our yard poking up his little head, and the blooming of the hellebores. It also coincides with my absolute desperation to be in the garden, so I can channel that into my writing. Most of the poetry I write (all genres, for that matter) comes in February and March. After that, I'm in the garden and the writing slows down considerably.

I live for our poetry study every year. There is something about watching fourteen year olds realize that poetry doesn't suck--not only does it not suck but it's AMAZING--that makes everything else recede temporarily into the shadows. And the writing that the kids produce during this time is inspired and inspiring. Teaching poetry teaches kids:

-to be "precise and concise" as Sara would say;

-to use figurative and sensory language;

-to think about how their writing sounds;

-to write for multiple reasons and audiences;

-to be kinder, gentler people;

-to laugh;

-that even if you don't like to read really long things, there are still things out there to read;

-that they can write;

-that when they're overwhelmed, poetry can help get it out;

-to listen to each other;

-to be brave;

-do I really have to continue the list? Okay, it also teaches punctuation, vocabulary, imagery, the importance of word choice...

(Just cause I'm not sure about how the legality works, the tomatoes are from

Friday, January 4, 2008

Three Words and Thankfulness

I've just finished gobbling up Sara Holbrook's most recent blog postings and she has, as always, made me think. After reading Eat, Pray, Love (great book) Sara wondered what her three words would be; she chose Hope, Love, Create. I have to admit that in my Friday fuzzy brain haze I'm having trouble coming up with anything other than Sleep, Snore, ZZZ. Those aren't especially inspiring, though, and on Saturday morning they won't sound quite as good.

I know that Eat belongs. Strangely, the horizons that have opened up for me just because of my interest in food are pretty wide, and there's a lot more tied up with EAT than just survival of my physical body. It is related to Feed, and Enjoy, and Pay Attention. Eat now encompasses Cook, Grow, Till...and I think that last one may be one of my three. Till.

Tilling, turning, nurturing the soil that grows our food is as nourishing as the food itself. The chance to sink my hands (or shovel) in dirt and smell the rain, heat and Earth that goes into it is transforming. It doesn't just produce food, but also beauty; a full grown tomato plant heavy with the warm red globes glistening with their faint yellow pollen dust is one of the most breathtaking sights I've encountered. Likewise a blooming Oriental poppy, its safety-orange, crinkly petals slowly unfurling over its silvery-green, sturdy stem.

But tilling isn't just for the Earth, it's also for any new growth. We till and prepare ourselves for new knowledge and adventures and wonders all the time. Teaching is like tilling; cultivating the students' minds so they are ready for the seeds that will come, so they can get the extended metaphor.

So, Eat, Till, and I think I'll also stick with Love. When things are hard, I remember what I love--the above mentioned Sara, tomatoes, poppies, my husband, my friends, my frustrating but fabulous family...the list goes on--and the feeling swells inside until my skin tingles. It doesn't always keep me from wanting to scream and pull my hair out, but loving does often prevent the actions. Particularly pulling out my hair.

Eat, Till, Love, and be thankful. If I can hold onto these ideas through the year, it will be a good one.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

First posting...January 3, 2008

In my head, it's already Spring. I've been staring longingly at the flower and vegetable catalogs, and they're helping to keep me sane. With fifteen degrees the high today, tomatoes seem a loooong way off...

Gah! That's because they are! Approximately EIGHT MONTHS off. Sigh. Okay, think about the forsythia; they're only about four and a half months off. Good God, winter is long.

While I wouldn't say I despise winter--after all, look at the amazing light and clarity in the air-- I would say that I despise its interruption of my garden. I know, I know. The plants need down time, some have to have the cold to bloom, yada yada yada. But I need flowers NOW.

Besides, it's the gardening that helps me avoid strangling the people in control of my teaching life, who so often seem not to be me. I have to say, it's hard teaching in a place where the things we do frequently have little to do with what is best for kids, and lots to do with what is best for state test scores and our school administrators. The good news is, once I shut the door, I can take back a little of the control and do what my observations show me is good for my students.

I'm going back to school myself, soon. Strangely, I'm feeling a little trepidatious about the whole thing. As if that didn't make me a big enough idjit, I'm feeling most nervous about just getting to class on time! It's going to be a haul from the end of the school day into the city; hopefully the Green Line will consistently show up when I need it to. I'm also a little excited. I can add to the hopefully list the thought that there will be people in my class to talk about teaching with, and from whom I'll learn new things.

I recently read Ghost Map, a look at the cholera outbreak in the Soho area of London in 1854. I love the consilience of the social, scientific, and historic lessons the author writes about. I also love having learned the word "consilience". :) (Though I'm not 100% sure I've used it correctly in the first sentence--my context for the word so far is limited to the book.) It is the perfect descriptor for what I so love about a lot of the non-fiction I've been reading, like Omnivore's Dilemma and the books by Frances Mayes. The drawing upon many fields of inquiry and knowledge to come to an induction/conclusion. Love it! It's what makes learning so much fun. Well, for geeky me anyway.